Marv Newell, Sr. Vice President, Missio Nexus
“The greatest injustice in the world is not giving someone opportunity to hear a clear presentation of the gospel.”
Most likely you have heard this statement, which is becoming more and more a cliché, in some form or other. But its increasing commonness does not minimize its truism. It is vitally important that the good news of Jesus be proclaimed. All ministry activity should either directly or indirectly have evangelism and making disciples at its core. On what basis do I dare to make that statement? On the very words of Jesus.
A week after his resurrection, Jesus met a second time with his disciples who were hiding in a room somewhere in Jerusalem (Mark 16:14-15). Jesus took that opportunity to give them added information about their global assignment he had briefly mentioned a week earlier. Specifically, they were to “proclaim the gospel.” This is a very targeted evangelistic order, yet some are confused by its meaning. A closer examination reveals Jesus’ intent.
The word “proclaim” is an imperative. We shouldn’t get the idea that Jesus was commanding every follower to become a seasoned preacher, expert pulpiteer, or even over-zealous soul-winners. Rather, he is emphasizing the duty to proclaim the gospel no matter one’s gifting. He wanted to ensure that they understood, as we should today, that the message of redemption must be vocalized. When these words “proclaim the gospel” are used together, nearly every time they could (and should) be translated with the singular word “evangelize.”1 The verse could just as readily read: “Go into all the world and evangelize the whole creation.”
In mission circles it is common to speak about three degrees, or methods, of evangelization. Evangelism can happen silently through a believer’s Christ-like presence; it can happen by verbal proclamation; or it can happen by a persuasive appeal for someone to become a follower Christ.
By using the word “proclaim” as an imperative, Jesus is discounting the silent “presence” of a believer as being sufficient to evangelize. The world will never be won through the silent presence of believers, no matter how admirable their conduct may be. Along with a winsome presence must be a vocalization of the message. There must be a conveying of the good news about Jesus, challenging sinners to repent and place their trust in him for a pardoned life now and eternal life hereafter. Believers are tasked to appropriately proclaim the gospel, with the expectation that some people will listen, be convicted, and ultimately be persuaded to believe.
We are getting further and further removed from the pivotal 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization; but that congress formulated the following explanation of the nature of evangelism, which has become a guidepost to missions these past decades. We should not lose this:
To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gifts of the Spirit to all who repent and believe. Our Christian presence in the world is indispensable to evangelism, and so is that kind of dialogue whose purpose is to listen sensitively in order to understand. But evangelism itself is the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Savior and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God. In issuing the gospel invitation we have no liberty to conceal the cost of discipleship. Jesus still calls all who would follow him to deny themselves, take up their cross, and identify themselves with his new community. The results of evangelism include obedience to Christ, incorporation into his Church and responsible service in the world. (I Cor. 15:3,4; Acts 2:32-39; John 20:21; I Cor. 1:23; II Cor. 4:5; 5:11,20; Luke 14:25-33; Mark 8:34; Acts 2:40,47; Mark 10:43-45)2
Unquestionably, the overall goal and highest stated priority of Jesus is World Evangelization – the kind mentioned in the Lausanne Covenant. Whatever plans, programs, or activities we engage in, all are to be measured against this priority. As missions engage in proclamation, discipleship, church planting, and a host of necessary support ministries, all should promote the progress of world evangelization. There is no nobler goal to which an ambassador of Christ is called; there is no clearer vision that he or she must have.
Missionary statesman Dick Hillis stated a generation ago, “It is not our responsibility to bring the world to Christ; but it is our responsibility to take Christ to the world.” Taking Christ to the world should be every believer’s highest priority, no matter what specific “niche” of this mission God has entrusted to him. The means employed are many; the methods applied diverse; the missionaries sent vary in gifting, training, and skills; and the money expended enormous. But the overarching goal – world evangelization – remains one and the same.
It is a great injustice either to ignore our evangelistic responsibility or to substitute something else for it. It is an injustice when we reinterpret what Jesus told us is our core mission. It is an injustice to churches who send workers out as heralds of the gospel only to discover they have a different agenda. It is an injustice for lost souls to never have the gospel reach them before they enter a Christ-less eternity. So yes, “the greatest injustice in the world is not giving someone opportunity to hear a clear presentation of the gospel.” May we take Jesus’ imperative seriously: “Go into all the world and evangelize the whole creation.”
1 Patrick Johnstone in The Church is Bigger Than You Think, argues that this passage as well as others would be better translated “evangelize.” He bemoans the fact that the common Greek form is too often translated, preach the gospel or tell the good news, distorting the real force with which texts like Mark 16:15 show that the church’s real task is to evangelize (p.47-48).